Hope to Live Tomorrow
I often hear people say what’s the point of all this. I could end up dying the next day and haven’t even enjoyed the money I’ve worked so hard to accumulate. People who have such a view are likely to have made two assumptions.
The first assumption is that I could die all of a sudden. Whilst this is true, it could also be said that I could continue living. In fact, on average, we are statistically more likely to live than die. The average UK mortality rate (per 100,000 of the population) is 1128 for males and 838 for females (Office of National Statistics, UK). Those rates can drastically reduce the younger we are and can be as low as 0.01%.
With odds like that, depending on our age, there is more chance of us being killed by a bee! I’d take those odds any day. If on the other hand, you live on a remote bee farm, have a severe allergic reaction to stings and collect honey for a living, then it is safe to say that the odds are against you. However, for most people, chances are, you and I would live until we’re old. If that’s the case, I would much rather be financially independent early, than be forced to work until my old age because I am spending as if there was no tomorrow.
If I were to be unlucky enough to die young, then at least I have laid a solid financial foundation for my family. This is a far less selfish way to live. In any case, the logic of “you could die tomorrow” is flawed. If someone spends like that, then they have to work more to pay for all those things they like and want. By excessively collecting all those material possessions in exchange for their valuable time goes against the very logic of their argument. It’s like saying: I know I could die tomorrow, so I am going to spend like there is no tomorrow, so I will have to continue working to spend like there is no tomorrow, so with me working more to spend like there is no tomorrow, I end up having less time to actually live the life I want…and the cycle repeats itself, over and over until they find that they’re in their 70s. By then, they’re either regretful that they didn’t spend as much time doing what they really wanted or find that despite their age, they still need to work to keep up with their spending habits. It’s a logical fallacy.
“Many people take no care of their money till they come nearly to the end of it, and others do just the same with their time.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I think those who make this first assumption are either very pessimistic by nature or are just taking the path of least resistance in terms of changing any bad financial habits they have. Rather than reflect and see how beneficial being even a tiny bit frugal can be, they decide to encourage you back onto the path of living beyond your means. They hope that you do this because it only serves to make them feel better about themselves. Of course, these are just general observations, and there will always be the outliers who would make such a statement hoping to learn. I am yet to meet such a rare individual. So far, where I have tried to explain FI to those who have made that statement to me, they have just stared at me like I was odd or being ridiculous. I no longer feel the need to justify my way of living. Those who truly want to learn will approach it very differently.
The first assumption also touches on a saying which gets on my nerves every time I hear it: YOLO (You Only Live Once). The truth is, we only die once and until then, every moment of every day, we are living. This YOLO way of life or proclamation usually goes before or after an impulsive or ill-thought out decision, as a way to justify it: a shrug of the shoulders so to speak (and then perhaps a high five to celebrate). I think YOLO has come about as a result of a culture that has confused pleasure for happiness. It is the acceptance (consciously, or I’d argue most of the time unconsciously), that the satisfaction they are getting at that moment is worth the potential cost to their future self. Pleasure is momentary, usually as a result of external stimuli. Happiness, on the other hand, is something much deeper, internal and longer lasting. In my line of work, I am yet to meet a habitual drug user who is happy. They are constantly chasing their next hit, having to take ever-increasing amounts of drugs to have the same effect. I have no doubt they get a lot of pleasure when high, but happy? Far from it. They end up destroying their lives and upsetting those closest to them. At the extreme, excessive consumerism can have a similar effect. Not only can it ruin people’s finances but can also lead to relationship breakups.
Excessive Spending ≠ Happiness
The second assumption is that surely I am not enjoying life because I spend relatively little. This is where it becomes more difficult to appreciate because until I learnt to detach my perception of happiness as a function of what I spend, I would have held the same view. There are studies which show that spending money acts just like a drug on the brain. The dopamine hit gives us a sense of joy and stimulation, but it is only short term. Advertisers have learnt to manipulate this part of our brain in order to persuade us to part ways with our hard earned cash. It’s so subtle that most of the time we don’t even realise it. It could simply be the background music that is played in a shop, the tone of voice of the narrator, even down to the font of a text could subconsciously encourage you to buy something. Some studies even suggest that on average, we see thousands of advertisements a day. They have become part of our lives, so much so, that we don’t even realise it.
Think about your last non-essential purchase, be it a brand new car, a games console or a new pair of shoes. How long did it take before the novelty of owning that item wear off? A few weeks? Days? Or perhaps even a few hours? Then before you know it, you’re probably thinking ahead for your next purchase, trying to justify it, figuring out ways to get it sooner. Ooooh, if I apply for the zero percent credit card, I don’t even need to wait! I know the feeling. I have been through it. Breaking the addiction to spending is hard, but for the sake of your financial freedom, taking that first positive step is usually the hardest part. Believe me, it gets much easier and when things start to snowball, your efforts will be rewarded many times over.
Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy spending money. However, before I do it, I make sure that the value I derive from the experience or the ‘thing’ outweighs the cost to my financial independence. In other words, how many more days, weeks, or years will I have to work as a result of this expenditure? How much of my life will buying this cost me? If we feel as a family that the cost to our future selves is worth it, then we will buy it with no regrets. This shift in mindset and disciplined approach to our spending has meant that we are just as happy, and I’d argue even happier than any spendthrifts out there.
“We must all suffer one of two things: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret.” – Jim Rohn
As a family, our weakness is travel. We just love experiencing life abroad. Spending money on experiences is something we still do as a family. However, we do it carefully and as cost-effectively as possible. When we do end up buying something, we don’t automatically just get the cheapest thing out there. We do our research and are happy to pay more for something which is of better quality and likely to last longer. My Bose headphones have lasted me over 10 years and still going strong! For me, so long as I’m not starving, have clean clothes and a warm home, everything else I spend doesn’t truly make me happier.
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” – Dalai Lama XIV
As you progress on your journey towards financial independence, it would not be unusual for some to notice how different your spending habits are to them and that your outlook in life is just strange. Worse, they may even feel sorry you. The rare few will even pluck up the courage to say: “what’s the point because you might die tomorrow”. Just politely say to them: “but chances are I will live”. We don’t consider how we are living as making any big sacrifices. We are learning to live a more meaningful life with less. For us, this has resulted in more happiness and a far better sense of appreciation for everything that we have including each other.
It has only dawned on me not long ago that ever since I began pursuing FI, I have become so much more optimistic about the future and life in general. I find pleasures in the small things. When I am at home with my baby boy, I am rolling around on the floor with him and just watching him as he discovers the simplest of things; a springy door stopper, the radiator valve, heck, even the odd bit of dust on the floor will keep him occupied. If I were to get up and walk away, he would crawl as quickly as he could to get to my leg and tug at me. He just wants my company and attention. He can spend absolutely ages tearing up tissue paper and ignore the basket of toys in the corner of the room.
As I grew older, I have come to realise that I was losing this sense of appreciation for the simple things in life. My journey towards FI and the birth of my son has genuinely made me re-evaluate what I value most. FI is so much more than just the numbers or money. There is a part of me which doesn’t want to reach FI too soon because I am very much enjoying this whole process of discovery. It is about learning to enjoy life now just as much as preparing for a better future. If this is how it feels to be working towards FI, then I can’t imagine how FI itself will feel with the world of opportunities that it could provide.
In 2010, 5 out of the 17,201 deaths caused by external factors in the UK were as a result of contact with hornets, wasps or bees; that’s 0.03% (Office of National Statistics, UK).